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The Weaknesses of a Clinton-Warren Ticket

Damon Linker has an idea for Hillary Clinton:

To change the dynamic of the race and give Clinton the power boost that she needs to surge decisively ahead of Sanders, the former secretary of state must do something bold to make fans of her opponent rethink their devotion to him.

She can do that with four words: Running mate Elizabeth Warren.

There is a certain logic to adding Warren to a Clinton ticket, but I’m not sure that it makes much sense beyond the primaries. Suppose that naming Warren to the ticket would guarantee that the Sanders challenge weakens and Clinton coasts to win the nomination. What then? Clinton would be choosing her running mate and possible successor to stave off a primary challenge, but it’s not clear that Warren adds that much to the ticket in the general election. There would be no pretense of the usual geographical or political balancing here. A New York-Massachusetts ticket doesn’t obviously make the party more competitive in any of the states the Democrats need to win. Having two women on a national ticket would be remarkable, but also somewhat redundant in terms of appealing to voters. Warren’s presence on the ticket would presumably placate many progressives, but at the cost of putting a relative novice in national politics a heartbeat away from the presidency. Since Clinton would be the second-oldest president elected after Reagan, that is not a trivial consideration. Perhaps that wouldn’t matter as much to voters if the flamboyantly unqualified Trump is the Republican nominee, but it’s still a drawback.

I can see why Warren might want to accept such an offer. Assuming that the GOP continues to be torn apart over Trump, she would likely be elected Vice President, she would presumably have some real influence over administration policy, and she would become the de facto leader of the party once Clinton leaves office. It makes less sense that Clinton would want to have her as Vice President, not least since Clinton would be in danger of being upstaged by Warren on a regular basis. More to the point, many voters would have doubts about Warren’s readiness to be president in an emergency, and that could become an ongoing problem for the Democrats during the campaign. One of the main reasons why Warren-for-president trial balloons kept being shot down last year was that she had no foreign policy experience to speak of and didn’t seem particularly interested in the subject. That would put her in an awkward position as a VP nominee, since she would need to demonstrate that she was prepared to be president if necessary, and it’s not clear that she is.

Linker says that unlike Sanders Warren “actually knows stuff,” but especially on foreign policy it remains to be seen how much “stuff” she really does know. By comparison with Sanders, who arguably has a much more developed foreign policy worldview than he gets credit for, Warren doesn’t appear to know very much about foreign policy at all. If Sanders’ relative lack of foreign policy experience and knowledge has been held against him during the primaries and has even been cited as proof that he isn’t qualified, how much more so would Warren’s be held against her in a general election? Picking Warren as her running mate would probably solve Clinton’s immediate political problem, but it would also create new liabilities for the ticket in the fall.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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